Three years ago, Treuman Katz got some troubling news: At 60, he was on his way to becoming a diabetic.
Katz, CEO of Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center at the time, could have relied on the region's top specialists. Instead, the man who had spent nearly 40 years running two of the country's pre-eminent hospitals reached out to a naturopathic doctor.
He took herbal supplements, changed his diet, started yoga and hired a naturopathic trainer. Soon, his blood sugar dropped and he began to feel healthier than he had in years, he said.
"The body and spirit are inextricably tied together in natural medicine," he said. "You don't hear that in Western medicine. It's always just about the body."
Such comments might raise eyebrows coming from someone like Katz. This is, after all, a man who has been enveloped in the world of conventional medicine since birth. Katz headed Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, and was the nation's longest-running CEO of a children's hospital — 26 years — before retiring in September at 63.
Katz acknowledges that integrating natural and conventional medicine can be a tough sell in America's prescription-happy culture. But he's convinced that merging both is vital to the future of the health-care industry.
So much so that days before he left Children's, Katz joined the board of trustees at Bastyr University in Kenmore, one of the largest and arguably most prestigious naturopathic schools in the country. He also will serve on an advisory board of a new holistic athletic club in Bellevue, where he lives.
"My objective is not to convert," Katz said. "But the bottom line is that the cost of health care is staggering because we're not taking care of underlying issues."
Katz never planned on becoming a voice for integrative medicine. The son of a pediatrician, he grew up in Long Beach, Calif., with the expectation he would follow in his father's path.
"I was called 'Little Doc' at the barber shop," he said.
It wasn't meant to be. As a student in the 1960s at the University of California, Berkeley, Katz discovered he was more drawn to the administrative side of health care.
"Hospitals are like a microcosm of society," he said. "It's every issue you can think of under one place."
At Cedars-Sinai in the 1970s, he oversaw a glamorous hospital frequented by the rich and famous, but in time grew weary of their self-indulgence, he said.
"I had to tell Elizabeth Taylor that she couldn't have violin players in her room. Then I had to tell Zsa Zsa Gabor she couldn't bring in her dogs because it was against public health code."
He arrived at Children's to elevate a struggling hospital into a "national star." Longtime colleagues credit Katz with transforming a financially unstable center into one of the country's top-ranked pediatric institutions.
As Katz focused on getting the hospital in shape, his own health took a back seat. He rarely exercised, and because he was always slim, he paid little attention to his diet, he said.
That changed after he met his second wife, Sue Ellen, in the early '90s. She was a big supporter of holistic medicine and saw a naturopathic doctor.
But Katz wasn't into it. "I came from a family where the two words that were anathema were 'chiropractor' and 'osteopathy,' " he said, referring to a branch of medicine based on the belief that the body has an innate ability to heal itself.
When they started dating, Katz took Sue Ellen on a tour of Children's. She had some questions.
"What's happening with prevention?" she asked. "Is there anything in the works for your MDs to be working with naturopathic physicians?"
"We're not really geared in that direction," he replied.
"I think you should be," she said.
It wasn't until Katz faced his own health crisis that her words sank in. In 1994, five months after their marriage, Katz underwent heart-bypass surgery — one main artery was 90 percent blocked.
He emerged from the experience with a far more open mind about preventive therapies and the value of proactive vs. "reactive" health care, he said.
"I looked at my own personal health, and I looked at these young kids [at Children's]," he said. "Why did all these kids have to be hospitalized? And what could we do about it?"
Noticing a trend
That opportunity came five years ago, when Katz and his medical staff started to notice an intriguing trend: More than half of their patients were using natural medicine but not telling their doctors. Therapies ranged from herbal supplements to acupuncture.
What Katz saw reflected a nationwide boom in the natural-medicine industry. A 2002 study of 31,000 adults by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 55 percent used alternative therapies to complement conventional treatments. In Western Washington, more than 70 percent of cancer patients used everything from herbal supplements to massage therapy to naturopathic doctors to enhance their health, according to a study published in 2002 by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
"I had to ask myself, 'What are we doing to help families who believe in this?' " Katz said.
Most medical providers are unfamiliar with naturopathy, said Rich Molteni, Children's medical director.
"If we wanted to be traditionalist and bury our heads in the sand, we could have," he said. "But there was a risk that natural medicine added to traditional pharmaceuticals could produce adverse effects."
So Katz organized a small group of physicians to visit Bastyr to start connecting NDs — naturopathic doctors — and MDs, Molteni said.
Brown-bag lunches with Bastyr naturopaths followed. The hospital put together a group to study how herbs could affect drugs. It hired two anesthesiologists/acupuncturists and will work with Bastyr to bring on a chiropractor, a naturopathic doctor and a traditional Chinese-medicine practitioner within the next year or two.
Bridging the divide
Some call Katz a pioneer. "Treuman Katz was bold, and he wasn't afraid to venture out," said Daniel K. Church, president of Bastyr. "He has also deeply integrated [natural medicine] in his own life. Because of that, Children's is ahead of the curve. But there is a real movement behind him. Where good medicine is practiced, it is invariably a combination of all medicine."
Hospitals can't afford to waste time when it comes to prevention, Katz said, citing childhood diabetes.
"We literally have an epidemic. [Children] are eating junk, getting fat and getting diabetes. As an advocate for kids' health, you want to keep them out of the hospital. Prevention ... that's the gift."
Katz is setting an example. He works out twice a week at the Bellevue Athletic Club with his trainer, a Bastyr graduate. Additional yoga classes have increased his core flexibility, and Chinese herbs combined with a healthier diet keep his glucose levels in check. His body fat has dropped to 14 percent, and his neck, back and hip pain have disappeared, he said.
Katz now blends both spheres of care into his personal life. When he gets advice from a medical doctor, he bounces it off his naturopathic physician. Once, he went to his sports-medicine doctor with his naturopathic trainer in tow, he said.
"Many support [natural medicine], and frankly, others are suspicious," he said. "But I feel energized, vital. If Eastern medicine and Western medicine become more acquainted with each other, it can bring something greater to the health-care field."
Sonia Krishnan , the writer can be reached at : 206-515-5546 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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